Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey quietly on a record pace

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — So you think Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has been a disappointment because he hasn’t had long, spectacular highlight plays like many in his rookie class.

Take a look at his cumulative résumé.

It’s impressive.

McCaffrey is on a record pace heading into Monday night’s game against Miami at Bank of America Stadium.

Through nine games, the eighth pick of the draft already has 54 catches, 34 shy of the NFL rookie record for a running back. Reggie Bush had 88 receptions, 53 through his first nine games, in 2006.

McCaffrey is tied for fourth-most receptions in the NFL with Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin and ranks first among running backs. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald leads the league with 60 catches.

The record for most receptions by a rookie regardless of position is within reach for McCaffrey with seven games remaining. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin had 101 catches at Arizona in 2003.

“A guy like him, man, when his career is all said and done, it’s going to make sense of who he is and what he can do,” Carolina wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “The game we play, expectations, lack of patience at times, it calls for people to make judgments.

“But I guarantee you, when Christian McCaffrey’s career is over, it’s going to explain who he is and what he’s meant to this organization and what he means to the league.”

McCaffrey already means a lot.

He ranks second among rookies in all-purpose yards with 777, trailing Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, who has 1,131. He is 365 shy of Steve Smith’s team record (1,102 in 2001) for most all-purpose yards in a season.

The former Stanford star already set the team record for most catches by a running back in a season (54) and needs only eight yards to surpass Jonathan Stewart’s 2011 record for most receiving yards (413) in a season.

And McCaffrey’s numbers should only get better moving forward.

He had a breakout ground game on Sunday against Atlanta, rushing for a season-high 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. This came a week after the Panthers (6-3) traded No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to get more speed on the field with second-round pick Curtis Samuel, Shepard and Kaelin Clay.

They ran more reverses — including the old Statue of Liberty play — and used other players in motion to take some of the load off McCaffrey, who plays running back and receiver.

“We simplified things,” Shepard said. “We got multiple guys involved in the offense, whether it was a reverse, passing the ball. From a receiver’s standpoint, we were able to establish being able to be a gnat, block on the perimeter. I feel this was our best blocking game.

“And we created several more lanes for him, and that contributed to him having success on the ground.”

Coach Ron Rivera said players, in general, seemed to get a better feel and understanding of what the coaches are trying to accomplish.

“Our offensive guys are getting used to some of the things we’re trying to do that are different than some of the things we’ve done in the past,” he said.

More speed was a factor. Samuel was on the field a season-high 75 percent of the snaps (49 of 65). McCaffrey played a season-high 82 percent (53 snaps).

They are two of Carolina’s fastest players.

“We had a lot of guys doing multiple things, rather than one guy doing multiple things,” Shepard said. “We had a lot of guys even out the load and played as one.”

But the one, McCaffrey, remains the centerpiece outside of quarterback Cam Newton.

“We’re definitely figuring out ways to use his skill set,” outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. “He’s a guy [who]has a skill set that is unmatched. We talked about it in training camp.

“When you look at him getting out in fast routes, it’s a tough matchup for linebackers and safeties in this league. He’s so versatile. He’s really starting to scratch the surface on his potential.”

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